Being a musician and music fan, living in Manchester and London over the last 12 years, how was Beijing going to live up to my hunger for music?
I had researched on the internet after deciding to take up the position at Aihua but I could not see a great deal of prospect in the music world. Oh well I thought, I will have a break from the music scene and concentrate on my teaching. How will I have any time with a teaching schedule to even continue playing in any band or going to watch any great gigs? However, I was wrong. I have enough time and there are enough places to go, but mainly in the East of Beijing.
After a month of finding my way around this busy bustling city I became aware of some great little venues like Temple Bar, 4 Corners, Modernista and The Dirty Duck. Good amateur bands were playing and I soon discovered there was actually a strong need and want for western music as well as the Chinese actually loving indie and punk rock. They’ve even formed their own scenes. Within several months I organized a gig at The Dirty Duck and I put on an open mic. Now I have contacts with a small scene in which some of the members are from Aihua or friends of friends.
On a few occasions I have been walking along a Beijing street or Hutong and came across a busker or a group of locals playing Guitar and singing away. The locals are very happy for you to sit and have a drink with them and have a jam using there guitar. Once or twice after a few bai jiu (mental rice based spirit, drink with caution!) I sat and exchanged songs and did my best to explain the band name or a certain song in the few Chinese words I know, mainly in a game of charades, but music is a world language so they say.
For you fans of live bands there are some good venues to watch famous bands in Beijing like at the performing arts centre and the workers stadium or Houhai Park who have hosted bands from The Killers to The Backstreet Boys. If you have a thirst for your X-factor type musicians you can even watch all the Chinese X-factor failures, who all seem to play around Houhai Lake in dozens of bars with a big video of the show in the background showing the highs and lows of the show. It is quite amusing to watch the small crowds outside the venue who can’t get in peering through the big window.
There is also a great Jazz bar around the Houhai Lake and the great 4corners who host open mic nights every Thursday as well as comedy nights is also around that area. Any clubbers who want to dance the night away there is small club called Dada which is downstairs from Temple bar and frequently hosts DJs from Europe and the US, it is a very cheap (even free sometimes) and a favorite with Aihua teachers.
If you want the whole Western feel then the bars and clubs around Sanlitun have everything you desire, there is a cool rooftop bar with swings at the bar–need I say more? You can have from cheesy to cool to outrageous in Sanlitun, however it is quite a pricey area! Also around the workers stadium I once went to a club who let us in for free just because we were Western and supplied us free drinks! (Be careful because I do not think the alcohol is really what it says on the bottle, so again! drink with caution). You will not remember half of the clubs’ names or won’t even be able to pronounce them but with a very cheap subway system to get you anywhere and a cheap taxi home who cares! You’ll never have any problem living in the west part of Beijing and getting to and from these venues. On almost every street you will see KTV’s “Karaoke TV” where you can hire a room and sing until your hearts content 24/7, on a couple of occasions we have gone from Aihua for work events and birthdays. All in all Beijing is cool and there is music to be found!